Florida lawmakers rushed to pass legislation that put their state’s massive sweepstakes industry out of business overnight. The Florida House and Senate rushed a bill to Governor Rick Scott’s desk in the past few weeks. The governor signed the bill into law on April 10th. It took just two business days to find the first online poker victim of this bill. Club WPT announced that they would no longer allow players in Florida to participate in their online poker sweepstakes games. A recent ban on sweepstakes machines in Florida has apparently motivated Club WPT to withdraw from the Florida market.
Club WPT notified their Florida players that they will receive a full refund if they made a deposit to play on their subscription service. While most players deposit $20 to play at Club WPT, savvy players send a postcard each month to claim their sweepstakes entry into tournament prize pools.
The Florida law is aimed at closing down sweepstakes businesses that opponents claim are simply slot and video poker casinos disguised as internet cafes. The intent of the bill was not to close online poker rooms in the state, but this move by Club WPT shows that the language in the bill may do just that.
The new law makes any computer that accepts bets, bills, codes or credit cards illegal if it pays back more than $.75 to a single winning hand. It does not differentiate between brick and mortar gambling devices or home computers. This part of the bill appears to be what Club WPT is most concerned with and may be the reason for their abrupt withdrawal from the Florida market.
Legal Poker Sites was first concerned with this legislation in March. Club WPT appears to be the first internet company to take the new law seriously. Unfortunately, more companies may follow suit. At the very least, this law will have to be partially repealed before online poker can be regulated in Florida.
North Carolina recently banned sweepstakes machines and the North Carolina Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect in January 2013. Club WPT still accepts players from North Carolina at this time. The difference appears to be how a slot machine is defined in the North Carolina sweepstakes laws.